Dexter author mixes folklore, horror, the blues, and history to make "These Bones"

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A tale of poverty, racism, and the ghoulish appetites of an underworld kingpin called the Barghest.

What started out as an idea for a graduate school assignment has turned into author Kayla Chenault’s first book called, “These Bones.”

Described by Publishers Weekly as a powerful gothic work blending the best elements of folklore, horror, the blues, and archival history in resonant and lyrical prose, “These Bones” is debuting this month and will be highlighted at an event through Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor where Chenault will be reading excerpts at 7 p.m. on Sept. 14.

This event is a virtual webinar.

The Sun Times News (STN) reached out to Chenault to preview the book and event.

She described “These Bones” as the story of an African American community in the Midwest as it grows and changes over the course of 1900s through 1960s.

“All the while, mysterious and almost supernatural forces-- like the seemingly immortal bordello owner-- plague the citizens of the town, particularly one family, the Lyons,” Chenault told STN. “It's in the genre of magical realism, similar to “Beloved” by Toni Morrison or “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”

Nicola’s Books introduced the story this way, “In a neighborhood known as the Bramble Patch, the Lyons family endures despite poverty, racism, and the ghoulish appetites of an underworld kingpin called the Barghest.”

Kayla Chenault photo by Jenni Heller Photography

“As the years pass and the neighborhood falls into decay, along with the town that surrounds it, what's left of the Bramble Patch will learn the saying is true: These bones are gonna rise again.”

In the “about the author” section of the event announcement, Nicola’s Books said “Chenault is a practitioner of Black Girl Magic and holds a Master's in Creative Writing from Eastern Michigan University. When she is not writing, Kayla is found at the museums where she works or telling everybody about the history of popular music and social dance. She is a former line editor and contributing writer for Cecile's Writers. Her previous work can be found in The Blue Pages Journal and Honey and Lime literary magazine.”

STN: What inspired you to write this story and to become an author?

Chenault: “I've always wanted to tell stories, ever since I was really young. As a kid, I was always buried in a book or typing away at some story or screenplay I wanted to make. “These Bones” started out as an assignment I was working on in graduate school. I was inspired when I was driving to visit a friend who lives in Adrian, and I passed this abandoned church on the side of the road. It was haunting. The paint had long since flaked off, so it looked gray, and trees were growing from inside of it. Nature had completely reclaimed it. I began to imagine what if someone who saw this church in its glory could see it today, disheveled and forgotten. And the story grew from there.”

STN: What do you love about writing and storytelling?

Chenault: “Storytelling to me allows my imagines to run through a playground and explore things that I cannot experience but can imagine. So often when I sit down to write I feel like I am practicing empathy with people who may be fictional but reflect the world we live in. And being able to explore those stories gives me oxygen, in the words of museum pioneer, Brenda Tindal. It's the thing that brings the most joy."

STN: Was there a teacher or someone in Dexter that inspired you in any way?

Chenault, a 2011 Dexter High School graduate: “Three teachers in particular were huge inspirations to me and gave me so much encouragement: Jo Muszkiewicz, who taught English at the time and to whom the book is partially dedicated, Jim Riethmiller, who was my quiz bowl coach and taught government, and Jaime Dudash, who was my American studies teacher. All three of them as well as others saw potential in me and taught me how to cultivate it.”

STN: Is there anything in particular that you want the community to know about you and the book?

Chenault: “I appreciate the support I've gotten from my friends and neighbors from Dexter. It's been really great!”

To register for the Nicola’s or to order a book, go to https://www.nicolasbooks.com/event/evening-kayla-chenault
and to learn more go to https://kc-writes.com/.

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